Reviewed: August 2, 2009
Released: July 14, 2009
WOW this summer sure went quickly! It seems like we were just having arguments about the BCS ranking system a few weeks ago and now here is EA's NCAA Football 10. I've lived in BigTen states most of my life so I'm used to pretty big games and have been a fan of EA's NCAA Football since the beginning. Football on gaming systems has turned into a kind of "pick your flavor" event every Fall. The purists want the NCAA brand of football with hundreds of teams and all the bands and mascots and tailgating and
In the gaming world in past seasons NCAA and Madden NFL seemed to leapfrog each other with new features and better graphics. But the past couple years Madden has had the best of everything while NCAA gets things a year later while adding some unique NCAA features. This year NCAA Football 10 feels like it has stepped out of the shadow of almighty Madden and is standing on its own.
When starting up NCAA Football 10 you are greeted with the familiar screen where you pick your favorite team which determines your menu graphics and music. The team graphics change every year. On the surface it would seem like not much has changed from last season, but check under the hood and there are a boatload of new features, updates and improvements.
Play Now throws you right into the action by bringing up your favorite team and their biggest rival. The graphic package used this year is a big step up from previous attempts. The actual gameplay hasn't changed a whole lot from last season, however there are some new tweaks that will force you to change your strategy. The biggest change is adaptive A.I. The A.I. Will learn your play style and selection and adapt accordingly as the game goes on. As an example, if you constantly throw to the same receiver or run with the same route, the defense will shift to take away your bread and butter.
Other improvements include the ability to link plays together. You can run one play that will set up the next. This and the game planning screen that pops up during halftime and timeouts give you unprecedented control over your team. Other modes bring a little bit of the Wii to Xbox with “family play” and “mini-games” (horse, special teams challenge, tug-of-war, bowling, option dash). Even the “mascot mash up” has improved with even more school mascots to chose.
Road to Glory has also been improved. In this mode you start in the high school playoffs to gain enough reputation for a scholarship (or not) to your school of choice. Erin Andrews hosts the broadcast style presentation keeping up with your career highlights. The dorm room interface has been completely redesigned giving more of a 3D environment to look at your highlights and awards as you grow into a big man on campus.
Xbox Live play has not changed a whole lot from last season. The actual gameplay that is... however there are some big changes in the area of roster management and school rivalries. EA and various pro leagues are started to face legal action from former NCAA players and Professionals who feel in addition to their name, their stats and number are also their property. So when EA brought the editable rosters and names to their sports games a few years ago, it opened the door for gamers to create authentic teams with the players not seeing a dime. In the NCAA's case it's even messier.
The players on NCAA college teams are not allowed to be paid for anything while they are in school. They are paid in the form of scholarships and other benefits not available to regular students. With that somewhat hypocritical loophole, the NCAA then gets to use the image of the athletes however they see fit without the permission or obligation to pay the players. Well, some players got fed up especially the past few years where the level of customization in games like EA's NCAA Football have gone way up. It was to the point where you could create a pretty accurate mugshot and playing style of any player.
After all the legal mess ensued, EA has responded by making the player likenesses very generic. You only have a choice of a few pictures. The rosters were a bit trickier, but their solution was Team Builder. EA made a web application at www.teambuilder.easports.com where you can go and create your own schools and teams right down to the type of grass in the stadium. The teams are available for anyone to search and download. Never mind the fact that EA is hosting all these teams on their server (which I'm sure will come up in court), this is a boom for any college football fan, especially ones that go to a school in Division III or NAIA.
NCAA Football 10 has over 300 teams included just from the Division I ranks, but with Team Builder the possibilities are endless! There are "All-Time BigTen" teams, classic teams, various all-star teams and even some fake ones. You can upload your own school logo (apparently EA isn't worried about copyrights... yet), design the uniforms, stadium and just about anything you can think of. Team Builder is an awesome tool. I just don't expect it to be around once things progress in court. The only bad news for NCAA Football 10 users is you are limited in the number of download slots.
You get 12 schools with an included code in retail purchased games. This is an interesting way for EA to recoup a little money from the used game market. You can add slots (giving you a maximum of 120 slots) but it costs 800 Microsoft points. Created teams can be used in play now and dynasty modes only.
The good news is you can still get on Xbox Live (or PlayStation Network for you PS3 users) and download roster files from other users. That means you can get the full correctly named rosters and the announcers will even use the correct names. Several sites have made a living correcting the rosters in these games, but you can get the named rosters for free at www.freecollegerosters.com and enjoy the fun.
The other big online improvement is the addition of "Season Showdown". It is a four-month long competition where fans battle against one another to prove whose school is #1. Users compete for their school in a simulation of the real college football season. Users earn credits by both playing NCAA Football 2010 as well as logging onto seasonshowdown.easports.com to compete in the NCAA Trivia Challenge and the Allies & Rivals contest that will go towards determining your school's weekly outcome. If your school defeats their real life weekly opponent in the Season Showdown challenge, they will earn a win toward their season record.
The experience credits you earn during every game get uploaded to the server and your favorite school gets credit. Regular season starts August 31, 2009 so get some practice in! Ohio State was running away with it at press time but that is before the regular season begins. They have almost 17,000 users registered compared to less than 200 for Indiana and Northwestern. The interesting thing is other schools like Florida have more people registered but they are way behind in the points chase.
The online Dynasty mode brings a full 60 years of continuous play to Xbox Live. It now includes competitive recruiting and you can import up to 12 of your customized teams from Team Builder to recreate your favorite conference. Additionally when you finish online games you can choose to have the EA server email or text you the results of the game complete with stats and setting information. A nice touch! ESPN On Demand returns with on demand football video and radio news. Video is downloaded to a small window and looks like standard over-compressed Internet video. In the settings you can turn Sportscenter updates on or off.
NCAA Football 10 has now caught up to Madden in the graphics department. The stadium and general atmosphere of the game have been ramped up considerably. This year they have new field goal nets, flags waving in the wind, camera flashes during pivotal moments, and the most welcome NCAA tradition of marching bands! Most of the schools get a generic band formation but some of the major schools like Ohio State get special band marches. It's these improvements that really set NCAA apart from the pro game.
The usual team of ESPN’s college football broadcasts return in Brad Nessler, “the coach” Lee Corso, and former Ohio State player Kurt Herbstreit. They do a good job adding an authentic sound from the booth. This year we also have the addition of the much maligned sideline reporter Erin Andrews. This is probably the best broadcast of any NCAA Football game yet. I rarely heard repeated phrases though the few that I did hear ranked right up there with Dicky V's basketball commentary on the annoyance scale.
EA has further enhanced the custom stadium sounds. You can add your own sounds to specific events during the game. These events will only play for selected teams if they are the home team playing at their home stadium. There are 21 events you can assign sounds to from "1st down conversion on 1st or 2nd down" to turnovers. You assign sounds from your system play list.
NCAA Football 10 has considerable value on its own, but the addition of Team Builder really takes things up a notch. There are currently 18 downloads available on Xbox Live. Unfortunately EA seems to be moving away from the usual unlockable features within the game and instead going with paid online content. In this case, basic power-up/cheats to get instant gratification in Dynasty and Road to Glory modes. You can get all the "accelerators" in game, so they didn't leave the poor souls without Xbox Live out in the cold, but 1000 Microsoft Points to get all the Dynasty Accelerators is a bit much. Especially for a module that probably 75% of the gamers don't play. Additionally you can purchase the maximum of 120 Team Builders slots for 800 points.
There are 47 achievements available for 1,000 points. Achievements range from the pathetic uploading of a video highlight, to the insane quest of winning all 34 bowl championship trophies.
EA's NCAA Football 10 is without a doubt the best NCAA Football game to date. The graphical and feature improvements differentiate NCAA from Madden enough that it's finally time for this football fan to have both games. NCAA has more teams and plenty of customization opportunities to make this my favorite football game of the season.